Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Biodiversity News - A New Species of Chameleon From Ethiopia

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The new chameleon species, Trioceros wolfgangboehmei
Credit: Koppetsch et al.
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Living individual of Trioceros wolfgangboehmei
Credit: Koppetsch et al.
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Head detail of the new chameleon, Trioceros wolfgangboehmei
Credit: Koppetsch et al.
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Harenna Forest, Bale Mountains, Ethiopia.
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View from the deck of Bale Mountain Lodge
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Lateral detail of a living Trioceros wolfgangboehmei sp. nov. from Goba, Ethiopia, showing the heterogeneous body scalation with both small scattered tubercles and enlarged flattened plate-like scales. In this individual the dorsolateral stripe is interrupted and forms a Y-shaped pattern on the flanks.
Photo by Petr Nečas.
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Living juvenile of Trioceros wolfgangboehmei sp. nov. from Goba, Ethiopia.
Photo by Petr Nečas.
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Digital elevation map of Ethiopia (generated by using the geographic information system ArcGIS 10.0; elevation in m a.s.l) indicating the currently known distribution of Trioceros wolfgangboehmei sp. nov. east of the Ethiopian Rift in the northern Bale Mountains (red stars; left star: Dinsho, right star: Goba). Black star: Addis Abeba. Grey dots show records of T. affinis based on distributional data after Largen and Spawls (2010) and Ceccarelli et al. (2014).
Highlands of diversity: Another new chameleon from the Bale region, Ethiopia | Pensoft blog

Here is another example of why fragile and vulnerable habitats need to be preserved, if only for the rich variety of new species that could be living there.

This time it is a new species of chameleon from the Bale Mountain forests of Ethiopia. This one was discovered by zoologists Thore Koppetsch and Benjamin Wipfler of the Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany, and Petr Nečas from the Czech Republic. The new species, Trioceros wolfgangboehmei is a new small-sized chameleon living on the edge of the forest. Their findings were published in the open-access, peer-reviewed life science journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

The Pensoft blog explains:
The Bale Mountains in south-central Ethiopia are considered to be one of the most unique centers of endemism, with an extraordinary number of plants and animals that can only be found there. Numerous species are already known from this Afromontane high-elevation plateau, making it a biodiversity hotspot, but ongoing research continues to reveal the presence of so far unknown and undescribed organisms.

Zoologists Thore Koppetsch and Benjamin Wipfler of the Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany, and Petr Nečas from the Czech Republic, describe one such species: a new small-sized chameleon living on the edge of the forest. Their findings were published in the open-access, peer-reviewed life science journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

Given the variation in colour patterns and morphology between different populations of these chameleons in Ethiopia, it is likely that these groups still bear a higher hidden diversity than expected, which might be revealed by further ongoing investigations.

Thore Koppetsch Zoologist Research Museum Alexander Koenig
Bonn, Germany
There were already two species of the chameleon genus Trioceros known to be restricted to the Bale region when Thore Koppetsch and his colleagues discovered another unique representative of this group from the northern slopes of the Bale Mountains. Interestingly, this new chameleon is considered to be part of a species complex of the wide-spread Ethiopian Chameleon Trioceros affinis. Previous studies have indicated divergence between its different populations across the Ethiopian Highlands – with some of them separated by the northern extension of the Great Rift Valley, which also shaped the evolution of early humans.

The new chameleon, Trioceros wolfgangboehmei, has a special name. It honours the scientific work of Wolfgang Böhme, senior herpetologist at the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, and his passion for chameleons and other reptiles.

Apart from its biogeographical patterns, the new species also has a characteristic appearance, displaying enlarged spiny scales on its back and tail that form a prominent crest. It usually lives on small trees and bushes at an altitude of above 2,500 m above sea level.

Furthermore, the research team urges for sustainable preservation and conservation of its habitat to mitigate the impact of human activity.

Abstract


A new species of chameleon, Trioceros wolfgangboehmei sp. nov., inhabiting the northern slopes of the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia, is described. It differs from its Ethiopian congeners by a combination of the following features: presence of a prominent dorsal crest with a low number of enlarged conical scales reaching along the anterior half of the tail as a prominent tail crest, a casque raised above the dorsal crest, heterogeneous body scalation, long canthus parietalis, rugose head scalation, high number of flank scales at midbody and unique hemipenial morphology. Based on morphological characteristics, phylogenetic discordances of previous studies and biogeographical patterns, this new species is assigned to the Trioceros affinis (Rüppell, 1845) species complex. An updated comprehensive key to the Trioceros found in Ethiopia is provided.

Note that this new species is regarded as belonging to a complex of Triceros species in the process of diverging into different species due to geographical isolation of different populations, sometimes by physical barriers such as the northern extension of the Great Rift Valley.

This same rift valley could have shaped human evolution by isolating a population of proto-hominins. The Ethiopian Highlands are one of the candidate areas for the emergence of the Homo genus from its Australopithecine ancestor.

Koppetsch, Koppetsch & Nečas published their findings in published Zoosystematics and Evolution yesterday:

Discoveries such as this illustrate the natural resources that could be lost without us even knowing about them, due to habitat destruction and climate change. As explained above, this complex of species is in the process of diverging - caught in the act of speciating by classic Darwinian evolution in isolated populations. There may well be a great deal to be learned from observing this process over time, but only if it is allowed to continue without interference or interruption by human activity either locally or globally.








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